From Battenburg to brandysnaps: Mary Berry’s life in bakes

The star of The Great British Bake Off reveals her favourite recipes, her own signature bake and why she never changed her name

1 The Victoria Sandwich


I learnt how to cook this British classic in domestic science classes at Bath High School for Girls in the early 1950s. After I left school, I was a Home Service Advisor for the Electricity Board. I would visit people who had bought new electric ovens, but who might have a problem working them. I would pop over to visit them, taking all the ingredients with me, and make a Victoria sandwich in front of them. Then, while it was cooking, I would talk to them about their oven. They would always have their kitchens nice and tidy for me, and it was a pleasure to visit them. I also had to demonstrate ovens to the Women’s Institute in village halls around the Bath area. An engineer would set up an oven and a table, and we would arrive and bake a Victoria sandwich for the ladies. There I was, visiting all these little villages in the dark, driving my little Ford Popular with all the stuff in the back. I was as brave as brave!

2 Dutch Boter Cake

When I was 22, in 1957, my second job took me to London and the Dutch Dairy Bureau. My job was to show people how to cook with Dutch butter and cheese. I really enjoyed it; I’d often have to go over to Holland, and whenever we did demonstrations in schools, we would take girls with us dressed in Dutch national costume. My favourite cake was the Boter Cake, which is really a very buttery shortbread.

3 Classic Coffee Cake

I then worked for a PR company that had accounts for the Butter Information Council, the Egg Marketing Board and Stork Margarine. So I had to cook with all these ingredients. And Camp Coffee was one of their clients, so I would make a coffee cake. We all think Camp is old-fashioned, but gosh, it is good for flavouring a coffee cake. This was around the time I got married [in 1966]. My husband is called Paul Hunnings, and I was quite happy to become Mrs Hunnings, but my boss at the PR company, Olwen Frances, advised me not to change my name. She said, “We have all got used to you as Mary Berry, you are established – don’t change it.” She was very modern. So I never changed my name.

4 Simple Fruit Cake

Paul and I were married in Charlcombe Church near Bath. It’s a tiny little church which is the mother church to Bath Abbey, but much older than the Abbey, and it would only take 60 people, so everyone else had to stand outside. I made my own wedding cake. It was ever so simple, a two-tier fruit cake with royal icing. I remember putting fresh gentians around it. I do love having fresh flowers on a cake, and I am not the sort to spend hours doing icing, because it goes in minutes, and I can do lots of other things with that time.

5 The Traybake

When I started my Aga cook school I would always include a traybake for clients to do, because people love them. Whether you cook them in an Aga or a conventional oven, traybakes are very easy. Everyone has a small roasting tin, don’t they? I am also very keen on them because they are so easy to cut into portions. Many people make cakes for sale at fêtes, or schools, and they are so much easier to cut. My Ginger and Treacle Spiced Traybake is my all-time favourite that everyone seems to enjoy – and it freezes very well uniced. It was originally my mother’s recipe, and it has stem ginger in it. I think this would be my signature dish.

6 The Battenburg Cake

In 2010 I started doing The Great British Bake Off, and a Battenburg is one of my favourite things for people to try. It is such fun to see people trying it, and we did it on the Great British Bake Off Masterclass, so people can really see how it’s done. Brandysnaps are good, too. I receive photographs from small children showing me their efforts. They stand behind a little plate of brandysnaps, with a beaming smile and wearing an apron, and they say, “I made this”. And they took all the instructions from the Masterclass. I enjoy the chance to show people how to bake a classic cake or biscuit, and hold their hand all the way through to success. It’s very rewarding, you know, when you get letters and pictures. It makes baking feel really worthwhile.


The Mary Berry Story concludes tonight, 8pm BBC2